Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Ari (Aristotle) and Dante meet in the summer of 1987 when they are both fifteen years old. In most ways, they are very different. Ari Mendoza is an angry boy who keeps to himself. His older brother is in prison, but no one in the family is allowed to even mention his name. Ari is a loner who broods about his brother and Vietnam vet father. His family is working class and he identifies as a Mexican-American. Dante Quintana is a stranger who goes to a different school when they meet at the local swimming pool. The fairer-skinned Dante’s father is a college English professor which affords them a more upper class lifestyle. Dante is well-spoken, out-going and self-confident, compared to Ari’s moping self-doubt. But as the boys begin hanging out, they quickly become friends–reading comics, taking the buses all over town and talking constantly. This coming-of-age story describes the boys’ friendship over the next year. In addition to this story of friendship and self-identity, author Saenz looks at a number of profound topics including the importance of family, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, sexuality cultural identify and the value of honesty.
I really enjoyed this book. The author’s quiet, contemplative writing style was perfect for the first person narration of the slowly developing relationship between the two boys. Readers looking for a plot-heavy, fast-paced story will be disappointed, but those interested in a character-driven story will love this book. I recommend it to thoughtful readers, people who appreciate stories about growing up and those interested in Latino characters.